Man, it's cold outside. The trip to the outhouse never seemed so long. (Why can't I have a fur coat like those happy Charmin bears?) It's hard to believe that any plant could conquer the elements and warm up the cheeks of my soul. But there is. It's my favorite fall camellia -- 'Sparkling Burgundy.'

'Sparkling Burgundy' is a Camellia sasanqua hybrid. As opposed to the more familiar common camellias (Camellia japonica), sasanquas bloom in fall, not spring. They generally have smaller flowers and leaves and tolerate more sun than their cousins. They also boast a looser, more open form and take pruning quite well. I've seen sasanquas trained flat against a wall (called "espalier") and sheared into formal hedges. Prune them at the right time (spring and early summer) and they'll still bloom just fine.

That's 'Sparkling Burgundy' blooming above at Aldridge Botanical Gardens in Hoover, Alabama. I shot it a couple of days ago. As you can see, it's an upright spreader, eventually growing about 10 feet tall and wide.

Looks at the blooms! This is December, people! And it's been blooming for weeks! I can't imagine a prettier shrub at this time of year without the aid of several flagons of high-octane eggnog.

'Sparkling Burgundy' gets its name from wine, another excellent selling point. The color of the blooms approximates that of a fine Pinot Noir, such as Lucky Duck or Three Buck Chuck. But I've noticed something strange about the color. At times, it seems almost ruby-red. At others, it's a lavender rose. And the flowers change shape too.

Sometimes they're anemone-shaped with a ring of yellow stamens centered among the sumptuous petals.


And sometimes they're peony-shaped with a ruffle of extra petals in the middle completely obscuring the reproductive parts.


What's going on here? Grumpy concludes there are three possibilities.

1. More than one plant is being sold under the same name. (The second flower looks right to me.)

2. 'Sparkling Burgundy' suffers from bipolar disorder and manifests different flower forms and colors depending on its mood and the weather.

3. 'Sparkling Burgundy' is an evil plant that wishes to make Grumpy look foolish in front of his adoring fans.

The Grump certainly hopes the correct answer is not #3. He has a saw and he's not afraid to use it.

OK, I'm Hooked! Where Can I Get One?

'Sparkling Burgundy' is fairly popular, so you might look for it at your your local nursery -- that is, if they haven't already moved out all their plants to make way for Xmas trees, lights, and cheesy fake reindeer. If they have, buy one next spring. Give it well-drained, acid soil that contains plenty of organic matter and either light shade all day or morning sun and afternoon shade. Based upon my observations, it should take temps as low as 10 degrees for brief periods without significant damage.

And Grumpy's Next Favorite Fall Camellia Is.....

'Cracklin' Rosie,' of course. What other variety could logically follow 'Sparkling Burgundy?'